“Thank You Larry” messages were scrawled on signs. Flickering candles lit up photos of a smiling Larry Kramer against the backdrop of the New York City AIDS Memorial. Large banners read, “LARRY KRAMER 1935-2020” and “ACT UP! FIGHT BACK! END AIDS!”
At Thursday’s memorial at St. Vincent’s Triangle — near the former St. Vincent’s Hospital that took in countless individuals with AIDS in the 1980s, most of whom died — the LGBTQ community, HIV/ AIDS activists, allies, and loved ones joined together on May 28 to honor Kramer, who died on May 27 at the age of 84. Attendees, speaking through masks — with careful social distancing observed — expressed profound emotion while sharing memorable moments and reflecting on the important role Kramer played in leading AIDS activism, dating back to the earliest days of the crisis.
The event was organized by ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, the activist group that emerged following Kramer’s 1987 speech at the LGBT Community Center when he issued an urgent call to action in the face of a devastating health crisis. And because of strict limits on the size of public gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic, the memorial was also livestreamed on ACT UP’s social media platforms.
Activist Jay W. Walker, who recalled his first experience with Kramer when he was working at a bookshop in 1987, touched on anecdotes of decades past before opening up about the moment when he found out Kramer had passed away.
“When ACT UP was founded and GMHC was founded, could we have possibly imagined that anyone with HIV, much less AIDS, would live to the age of 84 years old? I couldn’t be sad about it,” Walker said. “All I could do was just pause because that was his work… and all of those people who worked to get life-saving medications on the market and into our bodies so HIV-positive people could have a life filled with joy — not with sorrow, not with pain — so that we could live to 84 friggin’ years old. So thank you, Larry! Thank you!”
Andy Humm, a Gay City News contributor who penned the newspaper’s obituary of Kramer, also delivered impassioned remarks about the late activist, playwright, author, and screenwriter, who he said “made better activists out of all of us” when the AIDS crisis swept through the city.
“He’s the one who brought 80 people to his apartment in August of 1981 to hear about AIDS, to get horrified by it,” Humm said. That went to the formation of GMHC. He wasn’t happy with that because it wasn’t enough of an activist group.”
Humm then recalled the time when Kramer summoned members of the community to listen to his speech at the Center that led to the formation of ACT UP.
“He said, ‘Just fucking be there,’” Humm said. “We had to listen and be there.”
Humm last saw Kramer a couple of months ago and remembered seeing a man who, despite his health and advanced age, was dedicated to his work until the very end.
“What I was amazed by was he would stop for about 10 minutes,” Kramer said. “And then he went back to work in the condition that he was in! He never stopped working. We’ve gotta keep up that fight.”
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